Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Diving Saba

The tiny prop plane rumbled to a stop as I dug my fingernails into the headrest in front of me and looked out the window in absolute shock. We had come to a screeching halt in less than a few seconds on, literally, the shortest runway in aviation history at a mere 440 yards, jutting out over the edge of a cliff. Incredibly, the airport on Saba has a perfect safety record! After dislodging my fingernails from the seat and disembarking from the little puddle jumper, I checked in at the tiny customs desk and jumped into a taxi with six others heading to the Ecolodge Rendezvous on Windwardside, located, of all places, on the windward side of this tiny 5 square mile island. The islands peak is 3000 feet high, so that 5 miles is literally vertical. The taxi made hairpin turn after hairpin turn, climbing ever higher up the mountainside.

The Ecolodge is nestled in the rainforest heading up to Mt. Scenery on the windward side. Made up of a series of distinct little cottages that dot the mountainside, each cottage is made of recycled materials and themed – Tree Frogs, Blue Tang (that would be my lodge!), Bird of Paradise, etc. the cottages are powered by solar panels, the toilets feed into a composting system, water is provided by rain collected in a cistern and warm showers by rainwater that has been warmed by the sun in a black “solar shower” bag and hung up on a hook in the stone floored bathrooms. Amongst the lodges are little outcroppings of basil, scotch bonnet peppers, baby lettuces, berries and tropical fruits and the lodge sports a tiny restaurant offering breakfast, lunch and dinner (by reservation only). A stone path winds from the lodge up to the peak of Mt. Scenery and down to the village of Windwardside. The path is dense with papaya, mango, banana and breadfruit trees pregnant with their tropical bounty; along with elephant ears, palm trees and numerous tropical flowers. Not an hour had passed and Saba was already my favorite island in the Caribbean.

After dropping my bags in my Blue Tang themed lodge, a quick nap, and a chat with a bright yellow lizard sunning himself on my windowsill I headed down the path to the dive shop. A happy fellow by the name of Peddy, of dutch ancestry and sporting a fantastic island accent, picked up a group of divers, myself included, and headed down to Fort Bay to meet the dive boat. The dive boat departed at 1pm and it seamed that no sooner had the boat had left the dock, we’d arrived at the mooring and were tying up; the mooring for the dive spot less than a mile from the dock and only a few hundred yards from the rocky craggily edge of the island. I was swept by a sudden bout of disappointment. How on earth could a dive be any good if it is only a few feet from shore, I thought to myself. I convinced myself that the dive shop knew I was a rooky and sent me on the kiddy dive and my heart sunk. As I slipped on my fins I reluctantly told myself that it was really only my first real dive and perhaps something conservative was a good idea. But so many people had told me how great diving Saba was, would I see the real thing? Noticing my distress, another dive on board said reassuringly, “don’t worry, you’ll like this spot”. The dive master appeared with a dry erase board and in a thick Italian accent she explained the layout of the reef and the dive plan and said that we would be diving to 80 feet. 80 feet! Maybe the dive wouldn’t be so bad after all, but was I ready for it? Before sending us on our way, she said, “an no-a harassing-g the sea life or the instructor. I don-n’t want to see any sea snakes or moon fish!”

I was paired up with Paula, a dive instructor working on the boat. I’d recognize her underwater by her hot pink fins. The other guests had all geared up and jumped in and Paula and I were last. After an equipment check Paula told me to jump in, descend to 10 feet, swim to the line and wait for her. Bubbles popped and whizzed around me from the divers below and I watched mesmerized as everyone slowly descended to the ocean floor. Soon, Paula’s hot pink fins were below me and I followed along as we descended down the line. I felt like I was making a lunar landing as I hovered above the sea bed as barren as the Mojave Desert. Little black eels poked out of the sandy ocean floor looking like plantings in a rice paddy in Vietnam, they retracted quickly disappearing into the sand as we floated above. We swam along and a barracuda observed us from a safe distance. As we approached the reef evidence of the underwater party going on was everywhere. Luminescent jawfish fluttered in the current vertical to the sand, leaping and dancing like flames and the vanishing into their little homes below ground. Deep water sea fans and sea plumes enormous in size and incredibly colored and detailed rustled in the gentle current and I was completely transfixed. I wanted to study one area in detail but the group swam ahead and I didn’t want to fall behind. Feather duster worms reminded me of long, lush false eyelashes. Angel fish in varying colors, butterfly fish, porcupine fish and the hilarious looking trunkfish swam all around me. I was so excited my heart raced but I dare not smile or I’d leak water into my mask. The colors were spectacular; lavender tube sponges and giant barrel sponges teaming with life; streaks of fluorescent green, purple and yellow corals branched across the stony face of the collapsed reef wall.

The group was focused intently in one direction. Paula tapped me and pointed to a crevice of rock and coral and out came the bright green head of a moray eel with electric blue eyes. We stared at each other captivated. I couldn’t look away from the eel, I felt like we were communicating in some sacred language. I was filled with awe. We continued down the reef. I checked my gauge, 2200 p.s.i. My buddy came by to check my gauge as well, I signaled to her – two fingers tapped against my left shoulder. She gave me the ok sign and showed me her gauge; I was doing well on air. We continued along and the terrain changed. Mammoth boulders rose up from below with schools of elegant black durgeon dressed for a ball, and the life of the party, the Sergeant Majors darting about. Our guide swam over to me and showed me her computer, 79 feet! She clapped and gave me a big OK sign. 1500 p.s.i., I signaled to our guide that my tank was half full. I positioned myself upside down and drifted downward exploring the edge of the cliff. Squirrel fish, those antisocial creatures hid from the excitement of the reef party in the crevices below. A motor rumbled in my ears, first I ignored it as ambient sound, like a car going by. Then I looked up and noticed two divers near the surface and my buddy’s hot pink fins racing up to get their attention, a boat buzzed overhead, and later I would learn that the captain was on the radio trying to get the guy out of the area…

We began to work our way back to the mooring. A stingray lay motionless in the sand hoping to avoid being noticed, but then jetted off, hovering at top speed to get away. 800 p.s.i., time to head in. I went to the line and did my 3 minute safety stop, then it was back to the boat. Our guide emerged from the water just after me, exclaiming, “it’s so beautiful, I just love being down there!”. Paula and I talked about everything we’d seen and she and the guide both said that I did a really good job and I’ll make a great diver. Returning to the dive shop, I immediately signed up for two more dives the next day and hoped the hotel and airline would accommodate my extended stay.

Diving Saba was the most incredible experience I’ve ever had, and this was by far one of the best trips I’ve taken. The people of Saba are warm and accommodating, and the island is the pinnacle of unspoiled natural beauty. Given that the island is a mass of volcanic rock shooting straight out of the ocean – there are no beaches, and thus, no resorts, the surrounding waters and much of the rainforest are protected marine and nature preserves. The island has a year round population of about 1200 people and receives around 30,000 visitors a year – a far cry from neighboring St. Barth and St. Martin that see that many visitors in a week! Saba is quiet and unspoiled, the perfect place for the wayward traveler who prefers kicking back in a hammock with a good book, and moving only as their will dictates.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

On to the next challenge

Do, or do not… There is no ‘try’. ~ Yoda

I love a good challenge. I love working on yachts – it’s a new challenge everyday; coming up with new menus, new ideas, organizing, planning, provisioning, and the unexpected little things that are thrown my way – a weird ingredient, the market running out of something essential, striving to work more organized and clean each every day. It’s like playing a game. Plus, I get to wake up in a beautiful new location every day, what’s better than that?

Yachts ranging in size from 130 to 150 feet have 9 to 12 crew and charter for upwards of $150,000.00, plus incidentals. On a yacht up to about 165 feet, their will be one chef that cooks for crew and guests. Larger than that, there are usually two chefs; one for the crew and one for the guests. My objective for this coming season is to get on a Mediterranean bound charter yacht (or one that is already based there) within that size range. I want it for the industrial kitchen, really; and for the nice budget; and a charter yacht so that I can put a little more pizzazz into the food and have a little more fun showing off; and for the big, wide rimmed Limoges dishes. Hey, a girl has to have standards.

I know I’ll be working my butt off, but I’m ok with that given the right circumstances. There is a certain comfort in knowing that the guests will be getting off of the yacht, that the trip will come to an end - ticking off each day as the end comes closer, it’s a celebrated yachty past time, that and end of charter drinks of course. Plus, with charter guests, it’s different with each group. One group could be vegans, the next week they could be really into Asian, or on a special diet – that’s the sort of stuff that thrills me. Cooking the same thing for the same people all the time drives me nuts. Charter guests tend to be more open about what they will eat, they want the experience and the fun because they are on vacation, a vacation they paid for handsomely.

I’ve been taking my scuba certification courses this week and have my final dive tomorrow. Then, I’m jumping on a plane to Saba to stay at the Ecolodge do some real diving. I know that when I start looking it is all going to happen rather quickly. I’ve already been approached by agencies looking for my resume because they have lots of chef positions to fill. I haven’t even sent out a single resume yet and I’ve already turned down one job and been turned away from another that isn’t open to Americans. Come Monday I’ll get back to the job of job hunting.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Burn y'ur cowboy hats...

Kean on getting on a yacht in the Med, I was excited when a friend of mine referred me to a captain that was looking for crew on a yacht already based there. We had exchanged a few emails and at least a phone interview seemed certain. But then, up came an email from the captain with an apology. The owners said, “No Americans”.

Ah, America, the country everyone loves to hate…

This was a striking phenomenon I heard about last season, yachts that would not hire American crew, but I hadn’t experienced it first hand until now. When I arrived in Fort Lauderdale in November about 40% of the job listings said “NO AMERICANS”. I asked around to captains and have gotten various answers:

1) American’s are more expensive to insure because we are prone to suing – some insurance companies, I was told, have clauses that will only allow one American crew member, or none at all.

2) We have a bad work ethic.

3) It’s a personal choice, Americans are loud and obnoxious, tend to be the trouble makers on the crew and don’t live/work well with others.

I’ve heard it first hand from crew that will not work on American yachts because they say the crew are lazy and too much to deal with. And sadly, I have to admit; I’ve been on enough yachts to know, there is some truth to that. It’s a tough nut to swallow, I’ll tell you that; especially for people like me who try and break the mold.

But, in our defense, I do think we are probably scrutinized a little more closely as well; but only because foreigners admire us so much and want to be just like us. So, behavior that may be ok by one nationality, say, like hooliganism by British footballers, long considered a sign of enthusiastic allegiance to their favorite football clubs and widely accepted and appreciated by the British general public – would be considered “loud and obnoxious” and frowned upon if the same behavior were exhibited by Americans. And what about zee French? They’ve practically legalized a poor work ethic with their government sanctioned 35 hour work weeks and a month of holiday a year. And dare we even mention the Spanish and Italians? They take naps in the middle of the afternoon for god sake! What kind of a work ethic is that? Americans have a work ethic; we’ll sacrifice our holidays, vacation, marriage, family, and physical and mental health for our jobs. I know people that wear the fact that they haven’t taken vacation in two years like a badge of honor (sadly, that will never be me. Me, of such weak constitution and poor work ethic). We’ve built a nation where families can’t afford health insurance or to have one parent at home to raise children because we love to work that much! All those European nations, they’re just taking a siesta because we’re doing all the hard work for them… Lazy slogs, I tell ya’. They’re all a bunch a lazy slogs.

And about all that suing; it’s really only because American’s have such a strong work ethic and put such importance on quality of life that we sue people. I mean, come on, if you’d worked a little harder to protect everything so that any and all foreseeable accidents or uncomfortable situations could be avoided, or if we just allowed showdowns and then people could just shoot it out... Or perhaps if we could just shoot all those lawyers and Washington lobbyists... oh wait, never mind.

Ok, well, I will keep my opinions to myself. Life goes on, there are many more yachts out there that are open to me and that are going to the Mediterranean, and this just makes me only want to double my efforts to not fall into the stereotype.

But if anyone with EU citizenship would like to marry me for, say, a nominal fee – I’m available.

UPDATE: After speaking with another captain I learned that it would cost him an additional $10,000.00 to insure one single American crew member just as delivery crew - for 1 week, not even a full time crew member.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Just another adventure...

Like everything in the Caribbean, the phone service was spotty at best… I worked my way through the bank of public phones along the wall in the St. Thomas airport. Each one offering up a new difficulty – the person on the other end couldn’t hear me, I could hardly hear them, crackling over the wire, stuck buttons… I was yelling out my credit card number for the entire airport to hear: “YES, YES 544, NO 44, YES, THAT’S RIGHT 5443330…, YES, YES, I’M CALLING ST. MARTIN. YES, ST. MARTIN, SAY-NT MAR-TIN”…

Finally, a voice crackled on the other line. A British accent: “I’m sorry miss, you’ll have to speak up I can hardly hear you.”, “I’m sorry, what was that?”, “crew house?”, “did you say you need a room at the crew house?”, “when?”, “I’m sorry, can you repeat that?”, “Oh, no, we don’t have any room today. The crew houses are all full…lot’s of crew around. Try back tomorrow”.

I hung up the receiver and moved on to the next phone and the next number, “Hello?, Hello? Yes, can you hear me? Hello? Hello? Yes, do you have any rooms available? Yes, rooms, do you have any available? Hello? Can you hear me?”… so on and so forth.

I had given notice to the owners a week ago; I was the second in succession as the entire crew quit the yacht. It’s a challenge to have an owner that believes that since they are on vacation, the crew must be as well. We did everything we could to try to express to them that just because our office is in a beautiful location doesn’t mean our jobs are any less demanding. Yachts are not like homes, they require much more maintenance and care than simply mowing the lawn. I was the newest aboard but I recognized early on the pathway to burn-out that lay out ahead of me. I could see it in the eyes of the other crew and I didn’t want to get to that point…

It was a tough decision for all of us. Crew become family, what takes land-based people years to know about someone, we learn about each other in just a matter of months – we share tight quarters and live, eat and breathe every waking moment around each other for months at a time. Our crew got along great, the stewardess and I really hit it off and we are like sisters. I am the last person on earth to cry saying goodbye, but we both cried multiple times over the past few days. Our captain left the yacht today as well, and we had another cry in the car on our way to the airport. We all have our flaws, we all have our quirks and we were all aware of what those were in each other, but we bonded and we really tried to make the situation work. The stewardess and our first mate leave in another week – but hopefully our paths will all cross again…

The owners had asked me to leave a week early since they’d found my replacement. I should’ve expected that, but it still came as a surprise when they handed me a ticket back to Fort Lauderdale. I thought I’d have one more week to say goodbye, and a lift to St. Martin. Instead, I had just a few hours and Fort Lauderdale wasn’t on the menu again this season. All the action is down in St. Martin, so I bought my own ticket, stayed with some friends last night and jumped on a plane this morning…

I spent yesterday afternoon celebrating at the Rum Shack in St. Thomas, then went to a movie at Honeymoon Beach on Water Island, where every Monday night a giant sheet is strung between two palm tree’s, a sound system and projector is set up and everyone makes themselves comfortable in beach chairs on the sand… It was the perfect way to end my time in St. Thomas.

I arrived this afternoon, touching down in St. Martin with a reservation at a cheap hotel in Simpson Bay, and the universe once again smiled upon me; beyond the rooftops, parking lot and some trees my window overlooks the beach and I can watch the yachts coming into the marina, the bugs are small and the a/c works... The first thing I did upon checking into my hotel room was to stretch myself out across the bad – my head on the upper right corner, my feet on the lower left. I’ve spent the past two and a half months on a bed about as wide as my shoulders, a mattress as hard as rocks, and quarters so tight two people could not stand in our room at one time. It feels so good to have some privacy and time to recharge my batteries. I check into a crew house on Thursday, but right now I’m going to enjoy sleeping in, going to my favorite café on the island tomorrow morning for a cappuccino and croissant and a kiss on each cheek from Dominic, the proprietor of Zee Best in Simpson Bay, and then catch some rays on the beach and catch up with some crew friends I haven’t seen since last year. Then, the search for a Mediterranean bound yacht will begin…

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Cat That Ate the Canary

Since I began cooking on yachts, I’ve been intrigued by the abundance of little fishes that gather off of the aft deck when the underwater lights are on. And what I mean by “intrigued” is, are those little guys edible? I remember the first time I asked myself that question. We’d been sidelined in Bermuda after a little mishap at sea and were anchored in the aquamarine waters of St. George. I had a bottle of Blanco Nieva Sauvignon Blanc in my personal stash of wine that I’d brought aboard (yes, I did actually bring my own personal wine stash on the yacht). The Blanco Nieva has honeysuckle on the nose. On the palette, it has a nice, crisp acidity that is almost effervescent. It’s clean with slight floral tones and not overly citrus like many Sauvignon Blancs. I took a sip and I looked out at the tiny fishes swimming off of the swim step and thought that they’d go so nicely with the wine; fried whole, sprinkled with salt and eaten like French fries… I became obsessed, wanting to find out of if they were edible or not. I’d been warned about eating fish from tropical waters because you can get poisoned if they feed on the reef.

But the obsession with little fried fishes started much younger than that. Back when I was just a little frizzy haired, buck teethed, bow legged mongrel we had a summer house on the beach at Balboa Island, off of the coast of Southern California. My brothers and I would spend our summers building sandcastles, watching the marlin boats come in, playing ski ball and eating frozen bananas at the Fun Zone, and roller skating along the boardwalk. My grandparents would come and spend the summer with us. My grandfather, Jiddo was what we called him – it’s Lebanese for “grandfather”, was my hero growing up. I’d follow him everywhere and he called me his “shadow”, a title I wore like a crown (or rather, a tiara)… My Jiddo was a big man, tall and well built, with hands as big as dinner plates and a thin moustache. He was stoic, serious and thoughtful with the demeanor of an old Hollywood actor – like Humphrey Bogart or Clark Gable. Jiddo and me would sit at the end of the dock in a lounge chair; me on his lap, Jiddo in Bermuda shorts and socks and shoes, a button up Cuban shirt and his lucky fishing hat which I would pull off of his head and wear with pride. We were fishing for smelt and the way it went was Jiddo would take a little piece of chicken or perhaps some bacon from breakfast that morning and drop it in the water. Hundreds of smelt would race up frantically pecking away at the little morsel as if it were the last meal they might ever have – and it just very well may have been. Then, he’d swoop in with his green fishing net and catch the little buggers, hand me the net of silver, slivery fish and have me run them into the house to my grandma where I’d help clean them and grandma would dredge them in flour, fry them, sprinkle them with salt and fresh lemon and send me with a grease stained, white paper plate full back out to my Jiddo where we’d resume our fishing position of me sitting on his lap as we ate the smelt like French fries and chucked their little bones back into the sea. Then, when it was time for another batch, we’d throw in a smelt bone and swoop in with the net to get another batch for grandma to fry up…

So now, whenever I’ve look off of the back of a yacht and see those little fish swimming around, I’m always reminded of my Jiddo and can’t help wonder to myself if those little fish are edible. And tonight I just grew bored with wondering and decided to find out once and for all. I asked our first mate if what he thought; not that he’s ever been to the Caribbean prior to this season, but he grew up on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and so therefore I consider him to be expert enough on what might be edible within a close proximity to a reef. He said that he thought them similar to sardines – and so that was assurance enough for me and I asked him if he would catch me a few (he already had a line out and was catching tarpin just for fun). With a line threaded with tiny fish hooks and little red reflectors, he was able to catch three within a matter of minutes. I wrapped them in a towel and they pulsed in my hands like a human heart as I walked through the salon to the galley. I couldn’t help but say a little prayer for them as it is a rarity that I kill something myself that I am going to eat. But I assured them that their lives would not go to waste and they would be treated with the utmost respect – in my frying pan… I scaled the little fishes under running water which took all of three seconds. Then I lopped off their little heads, cut through their tiny little chests and disemboweled them – not that there was a lot of disemboweling to be had, they were only 3-inches long at best. Once they were cleaned and ready to go, I dredged them in flour, fried them in oil, sprinkled them with salt and a fresh squeeze of lime and bombs-away, gobbled them down… And, well, they were really good; just like I remember from Balboa and I’m still alive to attest to the fact that they are edible and won’t kill you. Once it was proven that they were edible, the crew (hesitantly) gave them a try and were actually surprised that they were so good…

Ha! Too bad I didn’t have another bottle of the Blanco Nieva. I would’ve sat out on the swim platform all evening drinking my wine and eating those little fishies…

Sunday, February 04, 2007

A Curry A Day... Part 2

Chilled Avocado and Cucumber Soup

With a Sorrel and Cucumber Salad

Smoked Pimenton and Toasted Garlic Oil


Garam Masala Rubbed Swordfish with a Spicy Vindaloo Sauce

Cilantro Yogurt Chutney

Pistachio Jasmine Rice

Fresh Aniseed Nann Bread and Pappadam


Rum Infused Tropical Fruit Salad

Homemade Coconut Sorbet

Pistachio Praline with White and Dark Chocolate

There are two types of surprises in life. There is the “Publishers Clearinghouse, Ed McMahon Unexpectedly Standing Your Front Door, Giant Check in Hand” type of surprise, or the “Pop Quiz After You’d Been Out Too Late The Night Before Instead of Studying” type of surprise…

A group of 8 people had bid on a weeklong charter aboard our yacht as part of a fundraiser. The owner of the yacht told me, with great enthusiasm, that the guests coming aboard had a big surprise in store for me. I couldn’t imagine what the surprise could be but my imagination leaned towards the “Publishers Clearinghouse” type of surprise and Ed McMahon as a stubby, mustachioed, little Frenchman appearing on the dock in a horizontal striped sweater, neckerchief and barret bearing a basket of fresh Parigord truffles, still moist from the earth they were pulled from and smelling deeply of an oak forest, musk and soil. Or perhaps one of the guests happened to have a bottle of 1937 Chateau D’Quem in their basement and thought to bring it along to share with lil’ ol’ me over a lobe of Grade A Foie Gras, roasted whole with fresh figs and a sprinkle of Fleur de Sel… I tend towards an over-active imagination… Little did I know that this wasn’t going to be that kind of a surprise, it was more along the lines of the “Pop Quiz, hadn’t studied” type.

The yacht was sparkling and we stood on the clean teak decks, lined up like toy soldiers, barefoot and in spotless polo’s and khaki shorts. Steel drum music annoyingly reminiscent of a Carnival Cruise Lines commercial played faintly in the background. We introduced ourselves, one-by-one, shaking hands and exchanging names as the guests worked their way down the chain of crew on the aft deck. A flurry of greetings, taking peoples luggage down to their rooms, fixing drinks and getting everyone situated followed. Unsuspectingly, I shook the hand of what was to be my surprise, as he stood in front of me clad in a faded Gap t-shirt, wrap around sun glasses and a baseball cap.

As the guests settled in with drinks and unwound into vacation mode – information slowly began to leak. Who in their right mind thought I would be thrilled to find out that one of our guests was not just a chef, but a chef that had worked with Joel Roblechon for three years in Paris, and Daniel Baloud in New York City, and was a yacht chef for three years and now owns two very successful restaurants in South Florida? What sort of a nefarious plot was in the works here? My head spun, God was once again testing my fortitude. I’m deeply insecure about my cooking – doesn’t The Universe know this yet? And when is The Man In Charge going to cut me some slack, eh? I don’t know how to cook! I’m just a hack! I really think I need to start charging a surcharge to yacht owners that cause me undo duress…

The pressure was on and I felt the heat before I even touched the stove… Dinner for 12 at 8o’clock on the aft deck. In an effort to overcome my fear and hesitation cooking for this chef and his friends, I’d been combing their conversation, searching for a nugget of information about what foods they liked so as to be able to please them. I had planned on preparing swordfish, a Provencal preparation that I had in my mind. But as I chatted with the guests in the galley (because wouldn’t you know it, they all want to hang out in the galley) the topic of Indian food came up and in unison the guests all expressed how much they loved a good vindaloo. I felt a wave of relief and inspiration – Indian, I can do that! It’s one my favorite types of food in the world! I can make probably a half-dozen curries off the top of my head, but had never tried a vindaloo so I figured I would give it a shot. After a quick search through some cookbooks, I found a recipe in James Peterson’s Fish & Shellfish that would be my base recipe to work with (I never really follow a recipe completely). I chopped and prepped my ingredients for the sauce, although I used a bit of cayenne for spice, I toned it down incase some people had a low burn tolerance. The two teaspoons seemed to be plenty and I made a yogurt riata just to add a little cooling element aside the spicy sauce. My first course went out at 8pm on the button, a chilled avocado and cucumber soup with roasted cumin, pappadams and a cucumber and sorrel salad. The bowls came back empty. Next, the entrée and it smelled delicious, but I was up against a tough crowd and my stomach was in knots. I plated my food – but to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t happy with the plating – at least not for the crowd I was cooking for. The plates on this yacht are on the small side and not extraordinarily pretty and their really is only so much one can do with colorful oils and brunoise… I dream of large, white, rimless Aplico dinner plates… The knot in my stomach grew as the plates went out. But one by one during dinner, the guests appeared in the galley and raved about the food – even saying that it was the best swordfish preparation they had ever had. I told them that I felt a lot of pressure, to which they replied, “good, we hope you feel this pressure all week, everything is so good”. Dessert went out and I followed to check on the guests and was greeted with a, albeit embarrassing, boisterous round of applause. I decided that maybe I do know how to cook after all, gave myself a little pat on the back and slipped back into the galley to make a batch of doughnut dough for the morning, mop the floor, wipe down the cabinets, empty the garbage and finally after a 14 hour day, go to sleep – where I slept like a baby and dreamt that I really knew what I was doing.

Swordfish Vindaloo

Vegetable oil for sautéing

2 Medium onions, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 tablespoons ground coriander seed

3 teaspoons turmeric

3 teaspoons ground cumin

3 teaspoons yellow or black mustard seeds

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cloves

3 teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons cayenne

2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

8 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (or 8 canned, peeled tomatoes – juices strained and tomatoes chopped)

½ cup chicken broth (fish broth or water will work as well)

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar

¾ cup tamarind concentrate (or about 2 -3 tablespoon size chunks of tamarind paste dissolved in ¾ cup boiling water and mashed into a paste)

¼ cup cilantro

Cook onions and garlic in a vegetable oil until onions begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes. Stir in all the spices including the ginger and cook for 3 minutes, until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, broth and vinegar and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Add the tamarind and cilantro and simmer for 20 minutes.

While sauce is simmering, preheat the grill. Brush swordfish (or tuna) steaks with vegetable oil and sprinkle with garam masala and season with salt. Grill fish for about 4 minutes on each side being carefull not to overcook it. Serve withe the Vindaloo sauce and drizzled with the yogurt riata - along with Jasmine rice.

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